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Unless You Prioritize Product Features, Your Product Will Remain Dormant

Convincing
Prioritization
Product Team

28 February, 2020

Kartik Lakshminarayanan
Kartik Lakshminarayanan

Manager of Engineering at Grove

Kartik Lakshminarayanan, Platform architect at Illumio, describes his experience of prioritization of product features and emphasizes the importance of compromise in achieving the targeted goals.

Problem

Years ago, when I was working for a large company, we were going through projects that we wanted to build out. One of the projects we stumbled upon was the project that was lying dormant, stuck between a beta and a pilot version. Our plan was to make the product GA (Generally Available) and to integrate other enterprise features in the product that we were building out. However, constrained by the time we had to prioritize product features.

Actions taken

First off, we looked carefully at the project and decided to break it down into manageable parts. We were granted four months to complete our work and therefore had to select those features that would be the most valuable to the business. After a critical conversation with a PM who was initially hesitant to prioritize features, I returned to my team with a prioritized list of stories and asked them for their estimate to complete these tasks. Each story was timelined and we arrived with a four-releases plan, which translates into 16 months. This was only for GA features. Obviously, 16 months was not an option and we had to move forward. I approached the management asking them if we could build something that was an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) while keep calling it a GA. We proposed to pick up 8 of 15 originally planned stories and they approved this approach. I decided to delegate the two most complex pieces to two most experienced developers and asked them to calculate the risk disregarding the timeline. After assessing the risk they assured me that they will be able to complete the targeted goal in four months time but will not be able to scale it around. Hence, I was able to reduce a 16-month-long GA timeline to only four months while preserving the most valuable features to our customers and providing the management and the team the feeling of accomplishment at the same time.
In addition, instead of targeting 50 000 users and testing it with 100 000 users I decided to make another compromise and halve the number to 25 000 and 50 000 respectively.

Lessons learned

  • I have encountered two main challenges; one while negotiating with our PM and the other while talking to my team members. First, our PM was quite demanding, requesting all features immediately. Discussing prioritization with him was enormously difficult. As for my team members, I asked each of them to put him/herself into PM shoes. In other words, the only way to move forward from the standstill was to make compromises.
  • When conversing with my team members I applied the most effective tactic that infallibly works and which I also apply in my personal life. Instead of asking them What do you mean I would ask them Tell me more, which is far less confrontational than the first approach.

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